Ottawa

Syrian Canadians want program to bring in relatives

Refugee advocates say the federal government should grant temporary resident permits to Syrians with relatives in Canada.

Syrian Canadians call on the federal government to bring their relatives in Syria to Canada.

An Ottawa man says he wants better solutions when it comes to getting his relatives out of Syria and into the safety of Canada than relying on the refugee process.

Thair Hafez, a small business owner, came to Canada from Syria in the mid 1980s. He desperately wants to bring aunts and uncles here and he adds he and his brothers have the money to support them.

“The majority of them are still in Damascus, and they have no way out right now. If I have the opportunity I would love to do it and sponsor as many as I can,” said Hafez. 

Refugee advocates say the federal government needs to do what it has done in the past: grant temporary resident permits to Syrians with relatives in Canada. This was the method used by the Canadian government to help reunite families from the former Yugoslavia, Haiti and most recently, Iraq.

As it stands now, Hafez said his relatives have been told to register in United Nations refugee camps in order to make it to Canada, but Hafez believes that process is precarious, as few Syrian refugees have yet to actually land in Canada under either the government or private sponsorship programs.

Canada’s commitment so far is to bring in 1,300 Syrian refugees: 200 sponsored by government and 1,100 through private sponsorship agreements.

Lawyer says permits have worked to speed processing

Mitchel Goldberg, the Vice President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, sees refugees from around the world in his private practice in Montreal. Goldberg maintains that temporary resident permits are the answer.

“Every other war since the Second World War, Canada has always stepped up to the plate and put in special programming to ensure that people who are being sponsored by their families get fast processing,” said Goldberg.

But he said that doesn’t mean proper security checks should be abandoned in haste. Goldberg said Germany, Sweden and the U.S. also have security concerns and screening processes in place, yet those countries are processing Syrian refugees much more quickly than Canada.

“The government has to stop making excuses and start bringing refugees who desperately need protection to be reunited with families in Canada…We've always managed to reunite families in a fairly quick way. And that's what's required right now,” said Goldberg.

In a statement from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, department officials note "Canada is reviewing an additional request for Syrian resettlement from the UNHCR as part of our broader response to this crisis."

Refugee advocates say they had expected Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander to bring in a new, more comprehensive policy in regard to Syrian refugees by the end of summer, but that announcement has yet to be delivered.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: cbc.ca/thebandplayedon You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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